EMBROIDERIES – the craft and the people behind it
Indian schools teach all girls the art of embroidery, which illustrates just how deeply rooted in Indian culture the craft is. This is especially true for the northern parts of India, where our suppliers are located. In the areas around Jaipur, New Delhi and Lucknow, you can find some of the world’s most exquisite embroideries on both new and vintage garments. The many boutiques that sell vintage pieces are a gold mine for lovers of embroidered garments. They are skilfully embellished with silk threads, little mirrors and beads.
I dug through my personal picture archive and found photos from our visit to the village of Sara, outside of Jaipur, where hand-embroideries are made to order. When we arrived to the village, we were met with a group of women seated on the floor, embroidery frames in hand, surrounded by yarn in every conceivable colour shade. This is where our New Delhi supplier orders hand embroideries for our blouses and tunics. The village elder is the person who takes the orders and then distributes the work among the village’s families. It is also he who receives the payment and then splits it among those same families. Many of the children were keen to take a peek at us, the exotic visitors. We arrived by means of a three-wheeled auto rickshaw which is a common sight in these parts.
Marcos, our supplier in New Delhi
Mr Singh, who is at the helm of our New Delhi-based supplier Marcos, always demonstrates many different types of embroideries to us. As many books on Indian handicrafts point out, towns or villages here tend to specialise in particular kinds of embroidery, such as Chikankari, kantha-stitch (a simple running stitch), herringbone-stitch, chain-stitch, beaded or mirror embroidery. When placing our orders, it is essential that we use the right terminology to ensure the embroidery technique we had intended is used. (Marcos is a New Delhi business that we have been working with for almost 20 years. It was previously run by Mr Singh’s now-retired father.)
1. Chikankari embroidery can take many forms but is always made using the same technique, and usually made using white embroidery yarn.
2. At the block-printers and printers, we are greeted with orange marigold-blossom necklaces.
3. I like to keep small fabric samples in my travel diary, complete with notes on the weave, type of fabric and on anything else that might prove useful once we’re back home.
4. Appliqués are frequently used in embroideries in Rajasthan, mixed with beads and tiny mirrors.
5. Blue and red kantha-stitch embroidery on unbleached cotton. So beautiful!
Outside a temple, a large family want
their picture taken with us. Well, why not?
The Samode Bagh – my favourite hotel in India
When we visit Rajasthan, I always enjoy staying at my favourite hotel, the Samode Bagh, located outside of Jaipur. The hotel is made up of canopied pavilions and was built for a maharaja many moons ago, serving as his garden retreat when he was hunting in the steppe beyond the palace. He is said to have enjoyed it much better than the luxurious nearby Samode Palace. I tend to spend the early mornings here working on my sketches for the collection and examining fabric swatches, all the while listening to the green parrots in the trees and the little monkeys chattering away beyond the garden walls. I can’t imagine a more inspiring start to the day! After an invigorating swim in the hotel pool, it’s time for breakfast. On some mornings, we are the only guests in the breakfast room of this remote sanctuary.
The Samode Bagh in the early-morning light
Our journey continues...
...to a block-printing workshop in Kaladera, where some of our garments are block-printed. There are many workshops like this here. Production at this one is run by a family of twelve, and it’s been in the family for three generations. Block printing is a side business for them, their main income source being agriculture. That’s why, during harvest, we don’t receive any deliveries – the whole family are helping out in the field. The same is true during monsoon season because most of the production happens more or less outdoors, and the fabrics won’t dry.
But we will look at BLOCK PRINTING in more detail in the next part of my book!